Tutor Tanith

Learning Checklist

You have just found a POD site. You want to open a shop and start selling. But where do you start? What do you have to know to be successful? In the CafePress forums a bunch of shopkeepers contributed to a list of things every newbie needs to know. Most of that list is below. This is list is not a "how to" it just lists the things you need to find out so that you can design well and sell well. Some of these topics are covered here on Tutor Tanith, some are not. Not everything in the list applies to all PODs. At least you will know you need to look more into it.

"I don't want to read, I just want to get started" - Of course you do, no problem. There are three things you absolutely must do to get started.

  1. Read the terms of service and content usage policy. Violation of trademark or copyright can be very expensive. No warning is required before filing a law suit. So stay in the safe zone while you are learning.  
  2. Use a graphics program to create your design, even if it is "just text."  The on-line designer is very limited. Use it only for personalized designs. →
  3. Understand image sizing. Images intended to be printed are big.  

Now that you've gotten the plunge in and get started part out of your system it is time to learn how to be successful and correct the mistakes you made by not reading all the tips first.

The basics

Prepare your image - even "just text" is an image.

  • Choose an appropriate graphics program. You can't go anywhere without it. 
  • Verify that your image does not violate trademark, copyright, other laws or the terms of service. 
  • If you use clip art be careful. Verify usability for commercial products, both legal and functional. 
  • White in your image will be white on dark apparel but transparent on everything else.
  • Learn to design well: color, font, placement, background, size etc.
    • Chose the right colors. Web safe is not the same as print safe, Use colors that are in both the CMYK and RGB range.
    • Choose the right sizes. Web graphics print small, product designs require much larger. 
    • Don't stretch or enlarge your images. You will lose quality. 
    • A large image can be used on smaller products, especially of the same shape. 
    • Fit the image to the product attractively. Make images suited for the particular print process. 
    • Don't try to make one image fit all products. If it looks bad or doesn't fit, don't use it.
    • Experiment with color. Look into color schemers, color theory and color palettes. 
    • Avoid using square designs with sharp edges and corners on apparel. 
    • Don't use partial transparency on designs that you intend to put on dark apparel. 
    • Learn what full bleed is, why it's important and how it can help you create better products. 
    • Use the product templates until you get used to how to size properly. 
    • Don't be boring. If you make it look like just anyone could do it, they will.
  • Back up your images. You can't download them from the web site.
  • Save files as PNG-24 (or PNG-32) RGB, not grayscale or Lab.
  • JPG files can work but don't support transparency. Upload in RGB mode, not CMYK.
  • Check your image by printing it on a color printer.
  • Simulate the white under layer used for dark apparel to check how it will look.
  • Inspiration is everywhere, not just the marketplace and other t-shirt shops.
  • Pay attention to designs you see people wearing, the design, not what it says.
  • Keep a notepad and pencil handy always to jot down ideas.
  • Try to be one in a million rather than one of a million. Well done creativity sells.

Open a shop

  • Open a shop. 
    • Set your defaults for the shop
    • . Setting defaults makes creating new products faster. It does not affect already created products.
    • Learn pricing strategy. Cheaper often sells less, not more.
    • Create a descriptive name for the products for marketing and searches.
    • Create an interesting product description for marketing and searches.
    • Don't use HTML in product names or descriptions.
    • Check that text hasn't been cut-off due to character limits in product names and descriptions.
    • Upload images. Ignore instructions that the image must be less than 4MB (CafePress).
    • Add descriptive tags to the images for searches.
    • Use one unique image tag (e.g. shopid, numbers or mixed numbers and letters) to easily select yours from the marketplace.
    • Add images to the products.
  • Add an interesting introduction for marketing and searches.
  • HTML is allowed in section descriptions and is very useful. Use it.
  • The image tag category is just an extra tag. Don't worry if you can't find the right fit.
  • Organize your premium shop. Online uses a different strategy from a physical shop. Usually one section per design is best.
  • Don't make gender assumptions.
  • Use a redirect instead of duplicating products that might fit more than one section. 
  • Setting up section defaults can save you tons of time when new products are introduced. Warning - be careful. There has been a bug that blanks out the section defaults if you choose a new image while selecting products.
  • Learn to use bulk tools to change images, descriptions etc on many items at once.
  • Use template sections to simplify pricing, image sizing, organization etc. 
  • It's really hard to break a CafePress shop beyond repair. Experiment. 
    • Working on two shops or two accounts at the same time may break things. Don't do that.
  • Editing sections/products for the same shop in a new tab or window saves on page loading time.
  • Be aware of shop scale. Shops of more than a few hundred sections may have limitations.


  • Identify your target audience. Learn where to promote to that target audience.
  • Learn how to customize your shop. 99% of successful customization is willingness to experiment. 
  • Embrace the "what bad thing will happen if you try" philosophy.
  • If you can, install a visit tracker. 
  • There are people who are able to make a living off selling through PODs, but it takes time and a lot of hard work.
  • Don't delay new designs waiting for an old one to sell.
  • It generally pays to put all designs on every product -if if fits properly. It is hard to predict buyer tastes. Don't be gender biased.
  • Unique design is what gives your products value. Price too low and it looks cheap, not special.
  • SEO means search engine optimization. Learn all you can about tagging and SEO. 
    • If they can't find your products, they can't buy your products. Writing is required for success.
    • A professional appearance invites trust.
    • A professional appearance includes checking spelling, grammar and punctuation.
    • Use a spell checker. Spelling counts when words are how your products are found.
    • Vary your words (vocabulary, vernacular) in descriptions.
    • The shop information page allows you to set a title, shop description and meta tags. Don't skip it.
    • Every product should have a description that includes words to help customers find it.
    • Every product should have a name that will interest the customer.
    • Every shop and every section in the shop should have text describing the designs and products offered using words to help customers find it.
  • Set your customers expectation levels, especially for intentionally distressed or pixilated designs.
  • Link to your site from everywhere allowable.
  • Don't forget about taxes.  

Getting Help

  • Check the tutorials.
  • Make use of the user forums.
  • Do try things first, but don't be afraid to ask for help if you can't find the information or are having problems.
  • If it's broken, stop, breathe and ask for help. Don't try to fix it without asking in the forums.
  • Learn the terminology.

General Advice

  • Spend some time exploring all aspects of your account screen - reports, shops, announcements. Click every link.
  • Patience is important. Success won't happen overnight.
  • A year, two years, three years is a realistic time line for steady sales, with good marketing and design.
  • You'll have to put a lot into your shop to get a lot out of it.
  • Learn to be efficient.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Read the forums. Learn from the success and mistakes of others.
  • Embrace the "what bad thing will happen if you try" philosophy.
  • Schedule and organize your tasks.
  • You are NOT the buyer, you cannot predict their taste.
  • Take breaks so you don't burn out.
  • Make friends, network, get involved in the communities of your shop's niche.

Common Problems

  • Design colors are outside the CMYK color space. 
  • Design is too small in pixels. 
  • Design does not properly fit the product. 
  • Design is logo only, or logo overwhelms design  
  • Design lacks expression  
  • Partial transparency on designs for dark apparel. 
  • Sharp edges square on apparel. 
  • Attempting to upload file type other than .png or .jpg.
  • Not using RGB color mode in upload file.
  • Failure to add tags to images.
  • No good key words in product description, or no product description. 
  • No good key words in product name, or no product name. 
  • Text too generic in section descriptions or product descriptions. 
  • Section names without good keywords.
  • No useful section description. 
  • Setting prices unnecessarily low. 
  • Unprofessional presentation such as distorted images, poor grammar and spelling.
  • Failure to show products on the landing page. Show visitors what you sell.



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